As Chef Aislin Keith calmly dips between the kitchen and dining room of Dixie while directing her crew, the POS system is down and she admits to still feeling the effects of a recent chemotherapy treatment.
Plowing through a prognosis and the pitfalls of a restaurant’s opening can drain the energy from any eager entrepreneur, but not sprightly Keith. Along with co-owner Everitt Kettle, the Le Cordon Bleu graduate and University of Notre Dame alumna has been channeling her focus into the newly opened Southern comfort food cafe Dixie, 808 E. Colfax Ave., South Bend.
Dixie’s dishes, many of which are gluten-free, borrow from the bayou influence of Keith’s New Orleans upbringing. Southern staples like catfish po’boys, biscuits baked from scratch and a vegan variation of Keith’s popular red beans and rice fill only a small portion of the restaurant’s chalkboard menu.
“I was afraid to say Cajun food, because so many people think of that ’80s thing where everything was blackened and really spicy – terrible,” said Keith. “That isn’t Cajun food. Cajun food is highly flavorful and not always caked with spice.”
5:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. – Sunday
Keith’s country cuisine relies heavily on fresh ingredients sourced locally including produce from Vandalia’s Hebron Farms, Bendix Coffee, buns from Macri’s Italian Bakery and specialty items from Osceola’s D.C. Meats, where Keith now receives her boudin sausage.
“He’s thrilled because he’s wanted to learn to do it,” said Keith. “It’s fun, because I’m going to teach him and he’s going to make my family recipe that’s seven generations old.”
The Dixie duo of Keith and Everitt recently purchased a parcel of land on the city’s west side that resulted from Mayor Buttigieg’s razing campaign. Plans are underway to harvest lettuce, squash, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, blueberries, red raspberries and other inherited seeds for future restaurant use.
“This time next year, with this property, we will have grown probably 60 percent of all the produce that comes through here,” Keith said.
The chef’s ongoing commitment to sustainability is carried into Dixie’s kitchen daily. Each morning, two stock pots are filled with produce peels for the restaurant’s vegan soups and spent rinds are saved for Keith’s personal compost, leaving a minimal trace of waste.
“The way I grew up cooking, between my Irish family and my Cajun family, is you didn’t throw anything away. You couldn’t afford to waste your food. And in my French training, we don’t throw anything away.”
Boxed water has taken the place of bottles and the decision to not offer foam cups or containers for carryout was a conscious one by Keith. Instead, customers are charged 50 cents for plastic portables.
While currently open for breakfast and lunch, Keith intends to have a liquor license, live music and a dinner menu in the coming months.
“This is a great area, Michiana. I just wanted to be back by the water. I wanted to be back in the Heartland,” she said.